Cleveland safety Donte Whitner said he’s trying to bring the winning habits he learned in San Francisco to the Browns, who have a seven-game losing streak and haven’t had a winning record since 2007.
“Coach (Jim) Harbaugh was the one that really kept that thing together, that really helped us understand what it takes to win football games,” Whitner said on a conference call. “And that’s a tenacity. That’s starting each and every week like it’s brand new, as if it’s the first game of the year. … And we’re still trying to put that together and get everyone on board here. But we’re moving slowly but surely.”
Whitner was with the 49ers just three seasons (2011-13), but they played in the NFC championship game each of those seasons and won 41 games in that span. He wasn’t on a winning team in five preceding years with the Buffalo Bills or the past two with his hometown Browns. At 2-10, Cleveland has the worst record in the league.
Whitner said he also learned from veterans like Justin Smith and Patrick Willis. The lesson: No matter what happens during the week, players must hold their focus on game days.
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“We had a chemistry unmatched,” Whitner said. “And I tend to miss those guys. I tend to miss those guys that I played with there … Dashon Goldson, Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers. You never realize how special a situation was until you’re gone.”
The Browns rank ahead of the 49ers in total offense (No. 26 vs. No. 32) and are one slot behind the 49ers in total defense (No. 29 vs. No. 28). But they are giving up 28.9 points a game – only New Orleans is worse – and they haven’t won since Oct. 11.
Whitner said it’s tough to hear people from his hometown – including his kids – ask when the Browns finally are going to turn things around.
“Right now we’re in the same boat as the San Francisco 49ers, and we’re just clawing for a win,” he said.
Snap decision – Offensive coordinator Geep Chryst indicated Thursday that Daniel Kilgore, who was tapped as an emergency tight end in Chicago, would be back playing his usual role of center this week.
“We’re excited about Kilgy coming back and playing center, so you’ve got to find some other candidates on the roster” who could step in and play tight end in a pinch, Chryst said. “It’s amazing how many defensive guys raise their hands, thinking they can play tight end.”
Whether the 49ers will have to find a new tight end depends on how quickly Vance McDonald progresses through the league’s concussion protocol. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. Neither did outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who also suffered a concussion.
When McDonald left Sunday’s game against the Bears, the 49ers had just one healthy tight end, rookie Blake Bell. Kilgore and fullback Bruce Miller filled in. The 49ers also could elevate a tight end from the practice squad – Brian Leonhardt is the likely candidate – if McDonald can’t play or is questionable.
Kilgore said he hasn’t been told if he will start at center, back up Marcus Martin or alternate series with Martin.
“Marcus has done a good job overall,” Kilgore said. “So there’s no rush or anything, but it’ll be nice to go back to center.”
Injury update – Linebacker Michael Wilhoite said he’s dealing with a high-ankle sprain suffered Nov. 29 against Arizona and that he’s unlikely to play against Cleveland. It would be his first missed start since he took over as inside linebacker last season. Gerald Hodges is expected to start in his place.
Wilhoite was not in a boot and on crutches like tight end Garrett Celek, who also suffered a high-ankle sprain and was placed on injured reserve earlier this week. Still, high-ankle sprains typically are multiweek injuries and Wilhoite’s return date is unknown.
▪ Joe Staley (knee) practiced on a limited basis after sitting out Wednesday’s session. Receiver Torrey Smith (back, toe), however, missed practice. He had not been on Wednesday’s report.